The Pilgrims by Peter Frain

OK a controversy provoking title for today’s post, but It struck me while researching for the game all the spinoffs that have come off for the book and my own enduring love for it, that it shares many of the traits that make the Star Wars films so popular.

The characters are strong and work in an ensemble. Although Monkey is the star of the show, to the point that the translations are often named after him, the book wouldn’t be the same without the team work of the four pilgrims, their constant snappy banter and the fact that they all fully formed individuals with well-defined personalities and backstories. The Journey theme is similar to the Star Wars characters jumping in the Millennium Falcon, except Monkey and co are more hard-core because they have to walk all the way!

Its villains are convincing (and numerous). Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and the Emperor pale in comparison on the Demon of Havoc, Bull Demon King, Princess Iron Fan, the Spider Demons and the White Bone Demon. Never mind Storm troopers, Monkey and Co have the whole of Demon kind trying to stop them getting to India. And these villains don’t just want to see evil triumph……they want to eat Tripitaka’s flesh and soul! 

Yoda has nothing on the Taoist and Buddhist Immortals Monkey meets. Lao Tzu (the father of Taoism), The Queen of the Western Heaven, Patriarch Suboki , the Planet Venus, Kuan Yin, Prince Natha and his father General Liu (the Pagoda throwing General). All pumped up and primed to magically fulfill their roles in the Universe, with a mix of wisdom and kick ass kung fu. It’s wildly acknowledged that George Lucas based Yoda and the Jedi philosophy on Taoism.

It has a nice balance of action and dialogue. Enough interesting, and thought-provoking, talky bits with lots of fun action so the story keeps going at a cracking pace.

At its core its entertaining yet deeply mythological tale.Monkey has a range of both large and small themes playing out within its pages. On a micro-cosmic level,there’s the personal issues that each of the Pilgrim’s face that stops them from being in harmony with Heaven, then there is the macro-cosmic themes of the success of their journey redeeming/rescuing the whole of China. Throw in all the Taoist and Buddhist Immortals and philosophy that the book shows/quotes and you’ve got a tale that deeply resonates on a mythic level.

Its been around since 16th Century! You might have misty eyed recollections of when you saw Star Wars for the first time in the 70s/80s/90s but Monkey is accredited to Wu Cheng’en who combined various folk tales of the Monkey King with the real life pilgrimage to India by the Taoist Priest Xuanzang (see Day 4 for more on this) in 16th Century Ming Dynasty China.  That’s a good four hundred years head start!